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Convention in writing ship names


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#1 Delvo

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Posted 18 November 2003 - 03:06 AM

There's been a tradition that ships' names in writing are preceded by "the" and written in italics. The tradition seems to be fading away, since we now sometimes see only one or the other or neither being done. Why was it ever done that way, and how long as it been that way? (I'd ask why it's being dropped, but I figure it's just a matter of convenience and simplicity because there's really no reason for it, at least not now...)

#2 jon3831

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Posted 18 November 2003 - 03:42 AM

Hrm... That's a good question...

I never did like the practice of using "the" to preface the name of a ship. Doing so made it seem as though the ship were an inanimate object, which, as any good sailor will tell you, is not the case.

Ships are individuals, and in the romanticised world of seamanship, they are very much alive, and the people that sail on them are quick to give them anthropomorphic qualities. This is probably why ships are female. (Unless we're talking about a Russian ship, then they're male.)

As such, when you name a ship, you're naming an individual, and using "the" is a lot like calling someone "the Delvo" or "the Jon" or "the CJ". It just doesn't sound right, at least not to my ears. As such, I try and stay away from doing that.

Just a personal preference, really. Your mileage may vary.
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#3 QueenTiye

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Posted 18 November 2003 - 09:16 AM

Alternatively - ships ARE inanimate objects, built by human hands.  But the convention of using the definite article and italics gives a ship a certain nobility - THE means that there is only one of - it is unique, and the italics means that it is something deserving of respect.  Seamen's usage of personal pronouns (she, in most cases) does not thereby change the ship into a living being - but does reflect the intimate relationship people who live and work on ships have with those ships.  

Having said that - the question was why is the practice disappearing?  I suspect it is because we are becoming more and more distant from the maritime industry.  Even though I commute daily on a ferry - I seldom take note of the name of the boat - don't have to.  And beyond that - I really don't know anything about any boats.  I suspect this is more and more true: in spite of the maritime industry still being a very important one - it isn't quite as high profile as it used to be (unless you live in a fishing town... and then I wonder if the convention is still prevalent).  So - low profile for the industry and lazy writing are conspiring to erode the practice.  

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#4 Banapis

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Posted 19 November 2003 - 04:43 PM

QueenTiye, on Nov 18 2003, 02:16 PM, said:

But the convention of using the definite article and italics gives a ship a certain nobility - THE means that there is only one of - it is unique, and the italics means that it is something deserving of respect. 
That’s how I’ve always thought about it.  And for the most part, I believe the convention is still followed. I know it's followed in all the maritime books I own, although it’s true the word “the” can appear and disappear depending on the sentence.  I think that’s pretty much always been the case though.

Certainly, there are those journalists who for the sake of convenience, or perhaps because they simply don’t know any better, who are not following the convention.  However, I don’t see the practice falling by the wayside in more formal writing any time soon.

Quote

Having said that - the question was why is the practice disappearing?  I suspect it is because we are becoming more and more distant from the maritime industry.

There is certainly a greater sense of distance occurring.  Perhaps fueled by the modern attitude that history is boring and not worth learning about – and this seems to be particularly the case with maritime history.

One need look no further than Britain where you would expect there to be great pride in their maritime heritage.  Yet, if you saw my post in “Exploring the Universe” on the Cutty Sark you’d know what a sorry state they’ve let that ship fall into, and nobody seems to care.  And then there is the “National Maritime Museum” in Greenwich, an organization that one would think cares about preserving the past, yet they recently had the steam paddle tug Reliant, which had been housed in Neptune Hall since the 1970s and was one of their most popular exhibits, secretly scrapped without even trying to find a new home for it.  Indeed, a local group from Seaham had previously contacted the NMM about getting the tug returned but were ignored.  

Picture of the Reliant on display in the museum in happier times.

Picture of the Reliant working in Seaham Harbour.

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#5 the 'Hawk

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Posted 19 November 2003 - 05:51 PM

^ Outrage. I can't believe they'd do that. I suppose they have reasons. I also suppose no reason is good enough.  :glare:

Part of me thinks the convention lies somewhere between the individual nature of the ship, and the fact that there is the fact that while any ship is a work of art, made by human hands, it's also a tool.

Plus, in many cases, ships share a name with a city, a, a battlefield, a person, or a term. Examples such as the USS Kitty Hawk, the USS John C. Stennis, or the HMS Repulse come to mind. It's one thing if I say that "the Los Angeles is sinking.". It's another that "Los Angeles is sinking". So there has to be the distinction there because the name is shared. Thus, "the".

Not to mention that I tend to venerate certain ships... I just couldn't picture myself referring to the Constitution or the Enterprise without that respectful title in front. Just feels wrong.

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#6 Christopher

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Posted 19 November 2003 - 06:26 PM

Was it really standard practice in the past to use "the?"  Because over on TrekBBS, some people have complained about a recent novel in which the Enterprise-B was often referred to as just "Enterprise" instead of "the Enterprise."  There are some people who assume that ENT initiated that practice, and their sentiments toward ENT lead them to see it as a corruption.  (In fact, novelists including Diane Duane and Diane Carey -- the latter an expert on naval convention -- have occasionally dropped the article when it sounded better.  And there have been instances in TOS, such as "Enterprise feels like a house with all the children gone" in TSFS.)  But our stalwart editors (including KRAD) have asserted that the article-free form of address has actually been the standard naval practice for centuries, and that Trek is only recently catching up.
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#7 Delvo

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Posted 19 November 2003 - 06:45 PM

Well, the main thing that made me think of this, Christopher, is Tom Clancy's "The Hunt For Red October", which I know was out long enough to have been movified by 1994. I can't find my copy to verify this right now, but I think that's how the title looked on the cover: a not-entirely-necssary (and often skipped in other books/movies) "the" at the beginning, but not one before the ship's name, which was underlined to substitute for the italics without having to alter the font. Inside the novel, I think Clancy used italics every time (and un-italicized the ship names insentences where everything else was italicized), but what I really noticed was that the "the" was not there more often than it was, including among lines written for members of the Navy. I've also seen both the italics and the "the", both present and dropped, at various times in various other sources since then, but that novel just sticks in my mind because it was the first I'd seen either convention dropped and they were dropped so much. Given how often I've seen the conventions both followed and not, we seem to still be in the middle of the tradition's fading-away, not centuries after it.

#8 tennyson

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Posted 19 November 2003 - 07:11 PM

The novel, The Hunt for Red October was published in the early 1980s. It was Clancey's first book.

#9 Banapis

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Posted 20 November 2003 - 12:00 AM

the'Hawk, on Nov 19 2003, 10:51 PM, said:

^ Outrage. I can't believe they'd do that. I suppose they have reasons. I also suppose no reason is good enough.  :glare:
Oh, they had their reasons... I just don't find them particularly persuasive. ;)  Still, if you do make the decision to get rid of a museum piece, for whatever the reason, I do think you're under an obligation to make every effort to find a new home for it before destroying it!

There’s also an amusing history behind the Reliant’s acquisition by the NMM that makes the Museum’s decision to scrap her all the more confounding.

In 1968 Scott Newhall, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and a member of the Maritime Museum of San Francisco, was reading a nautical journal with a cohort in a San Francisco coffee shop.  Flipping through the pages, they came across an article stating the Reliant, the world’s last steam paddle tug, was to be sold for scrap.  The two resolved then and there that they would travel to England, purchase the Reliant, sail her across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and up to San Francisco where she could be preserved for all posterity.

The delegation from the Maritime Museum of San Francisco arrived in England in October of 1968, and Captain Newhall immediately went to the offices of the Reliant's owners in Seaham Harbour to arrange a purchase of the tug.  The manager, however, told him that a last minute deal had been struck with the Greenwich Museum to turn over the Reliant for the price of 1,700 pounds. The manager expressed his regret that Captain Newhall had not made his offer a year earlier when they had sold their other paddle tug for scrap.

Newhall then enquired with the Greenwich Museum about their plans for the Reliant. He was informed they only wanted the Reliant so that one paddle wheel and one engine could be removed and put on display.  The American party was mortified at the thought of the fully operational vessel being put through the “Greenwich abattoir” and decided to do whatever they could to save her.  Around this time, Newhall received an excited phone from the manager at Seaham who told him he had contacted the scrappers and learned that the other tug they had sold for scrap in 1967, the Eppleton Hall, had not yet been cut up.

The American party traveled to the scrapyard to inspect this paddle tug, which proved a dismal sight indeed. In preparation for her scrapping, the yard had set fire to the vessel to get rid of all the wood in the tug. The scrappers had then let her sink into the mud and now the sea rushed in and out of her hull as the tides changed.   Nevertheless, Newhall was delighted with the find, as the 2 steam engines were still intact.  What’s more, Eppie’s engines had also been manufactured by J.T. Eltringham & Co. and were identical to those on the Reliant.  He promptly made an offer to the Greenwich Museum to refurbish an engine and paddle wheel from the Eppleton Hall to display quality in exchange for their release of the Reliant. After letting the Americans twist in the wind for a while, the Greenwich Museum eventually refused the perfectly sensible offer without giving any reasons for their decision.

But the intrepid Americans were not quite finished plotting to save the old Reliant.  Not by a long shot. Newhall determined to make off with the paddle tug by any means necessary, including those that skirted perilously close to illegal. Quietly, and perfectly legally, Newhall formed and properly registered the “Friends of Greenwich Museum Society.”  The “Friends” then sent a letter to the Reliant’s owners, on impressive stationery, that they would be arriving shortly to pay the 1,700 pounds and take possession of the Reliant.  The “Friends” then hired a British actress and actor to go the operators to complete the transaction.  A tug was chartered to tow the Reliant away, and a “steam yacht” registration was acquired from a South American country willing to enroll the vessel with no questions asked.  Arrangements were made with a Dutch shipyard to fit out said-steam-yacht-not-named-Reliant for her transatlantic crossing.  Unfortunately for the Americans, the plan fell apart at the last minute when one of the actors stumbled and the owners called in the police!

The story, of course, was all over the papers and the public learned of both the schemes of the Americans and the Museum’s plans for the Reliant.  Public interest in the matter surprised the Greenwich Museum to such an extent that they finally realized what a prize they had in the Reliant.  Now recognizing what an important exhibit she would be at the museum, they thoroughly reworked their plans so that vessel would be displayed whole.  The public would have the opportunity to go aboard and explore her.  A hands-on exhibit that would give people a glimpse into a bygone age when ships armed with paddlewheels and steam engines revolutionized transport and travel.

As for Captain Scott Newhall, he had come to England determined to acquire a steam paddle tug and that was precisely what he was going to do.  He went back to the scrappers, purchased the Eppleton Hall, restored her to operating condition, and set course for San Francisco.  In March of 1970 the little paddle tug puffed, banged, and wheezed her way under the Golden Gate Bridge.  She remains on display in San Francisco to this day.

http://www.nps.gov/s...ocal/eppie.html

Newhall then authored the book The Eppleton Hall, which tells the full account her epic voyage.

Banapis

Edited by Banapis, 20 November 2003 - 12:10 AM.


#10 Norville

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Posted 20 November 2003 - 12:00 AM

Quote

There is certainly a greater sense of distance occurring. Perhaps fueled by the modern attitude that history is boring and not worth learning about – and this seems to be particularly the case with maritime history.

That's so sad. For me, seagoing stories (especially from the late WWII submariner Edward "Ned" Beach) have brought history to life for me more than it ever had been before; history is taught so badly that it seems dry as dust, and we had a whole generation (the 1960s "revolutionaries") who decided that history was beneath contempt (but so, apparently, was education itself). However, good ol' salty sea stories bring history to life, and I believe that society needs good storytellers; sadly, the textbooks just don't cut it.

Quote

Not to mention that I tend to venerate certain ships...

So do I. I love the Pampanito, WWII submarine docked at Fisherman's Wharf. I can certainly understand why sailors consider their ships "alive".

BTW, Hawk, the Constitution was used during filming of the movie "Master and Commander". In a way, she stood in for the enemy ship Acheron; they scanned every inch of her for a few days and digitized her... and there she is on-screen. :cool:
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#11 Banapis

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Posted 20 November 2003 - 12:59 AM

Norville, on Nov 20 2003, 05:00 AM, said:

That's so sad. For me, seagoing stories (especially from the late WWII submariner Edward "Ned" Beach) have brought history to life for me more than it ever had been before; history is taught so badly that it seems dry as dust, and we had a whole generation (the 1960s "revolutionaries") who decided that history was beneath contempt (but so, apparently, was education itself). However, good ol' salty sea stories bring history to life, and I believe that society needs good storytellers; sadly, the textbooks just don't cut it.
I find it interesting to note my childhood favorites predate the changes you observe stemming from the 1960s.

When I was younger I loved to check out those wonderful old American Heritage Junior Library books from the early 1960s.   They were superbly done, did a good job relying on primary sources, and always presented the stories in an interesting way. But best of all they were geared toward capturing the imagination of a younger audience – an aspect in which the excelled.

Quote

I love the Pampanito, WWII submarine docked at Fisherman's Wharf. I can certainly understand why sailors consider their ships "alive".

I remember when I was in Boy Scouts we got to spend the night on the famous Gato class sub USS Silversides in Muskegon, MI.   A simply amazing vessel!  You can bet as soon as I got home I was checking out books from the local library and reading all about the WWII submarine exploits of Cmdr. Dudley Morton  of the Wahoo and his protégé, Cmdr. Richard O'Kane of the Tang. :D

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#12 Kevin Street

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Posted 20 November 2003 - 01:17 AM

Banapis, on Nov 19 2003, 11:00 PM, said:

There’s also an amusing history behind the Reliant’s acquisition by the NMM that makes the Museum’s decision to scrap her all the more confounding...
Well done, Banapis! That's great story, very well told. :coolninja:  :coolninja:  :coolninja:

This is a wonderful thread. :)
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#13 Banapis

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Posted 20 November 2003 - 01:54 AM

*takes a bow*

Thanks, Kevin.  One of the reasons I like that story so much is because it reminds me of a time when people were so passionate about preserving pieces of our past for the enjoyment of future generations.

We could do with a little bit more of that same passion today.

Banapis


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